A HILLIKIN in Florida

With another year in the books, and a brand new chapter to begin, I couldn’t decide how to kick off 2018.

So I went to visit my old friend Sallie Parker at a local pub where she was holding court on the pool table with her trusty McDermott. Louisville’s and the University of Kentucky’s basketball teams were battling on TV and the place was packed with boisterous Kentuckians in town for the bowl game.

“Sallie, old gal,” I called when she rose from sinking the 11 in a long shot down the rail, “I see you’re still a shark.”

“Well, if it ain’t the big city newspaper woman,” she said, her Appalachian lilt unchanged. We hugged.

“It’s an altweekly,” I corrected, but was drowned by a sudden chant of “C-A-R-D-S, Cards!”

“Boy, they sure are proud of their spelling,” Sallie remarked, lining up a 10-14 combo. The 14 glanced off the side pocket corner.

“Damn titties,” we mumbled in unison.

Looking pleased, Sallie’s opponent, a Georgia Bulldog fan, took an easy shot in the corner but hit it too hard and the cue ricocheted off the rail into the eight, which plopped into the side pocket as smooth as a fish.

Sallie offered him her hand but he was busy letting out a string of swears.

“That boy couldn’t get his balls in a hole at the Bunny Ranch,” Sallie said as he wandered off, still cursing.

“Sallie!” I exclaimed.

She shrugged and nodded at the table. “Nobody’s up next. You wanna shoot the rest?”

“Sure, but don’t expect much. I haven’t practiced in a while, so I’m probably pretty rusty.”

She handed over the McDermott. “Don’t bother with them house sticks. They’re crookeder than a politician’s pecker.”

I laughed in spite of myself as she headed for the bar, her solid hillbilly form swallowed in baggy jeans and a Tebow jersey. I’d have to ask her about that jersey.

Sallie’s cue was a little longer than I like and only 16 ounces, lighter than I had any business using when I hadn’t played in months, but the wood was smooth without being tacky with gloss, so even without hand chalk, it slid in the hollow between my left thumb and index finger in a sure, easy stroke. I’d knocked in the ducks, made a combo on the second try and was aiming at the last ball, a long, deep cut—my specialty in days gone by—when Sallie returned. The ball bumped the edge of the pocket and rolled in.

“Rusty, my left foot,” Sallie said, handing me a draft. It was still early, but I know better than to argue with Sallie when drinking is concerned.

“I wanted it clean; if we were playing straight eight, that would’ve been as good as a miss.”

“Same ol’ tightwad,” she said, grinning.

We clinked glasses and took a swallow.

“So, tell me about things. How’s Junior liking Florida? Y’all getting settled in? Sure looks like it,” I said, pointing at the jersey.

“Figured I should try to fit in. First time in my life anyone ever called me a Yankee, but I s’pose they don’t know no better. Ain’t no Yankees in West Virginia. Southerners neither.”

I didn’t bother correcting her. We’d gone ’round about it enough when we were kids.

“And I’ll tell you what, even though we moved here in September, at first we thought we’d landed south of the gates of Hell. Junior ’bout broke down and got an air conditioner. Thank the Lord the kids’re old enough they don’t crawl in with us. Only way you can sleep is naked as the good Lord made you.”

“That’s Florida,” I agreed. “It gets hotter before it cools off.”

“Now, I will admit, the government down here has got me confused. I thought Florida was full of New Yorkers, but I swear, they’re more conservative here than in the mountains.

“More bigoted, too. And why do folks keep building so close to the ocean? Everyone knows the seas are rising. Me and Junior checked the elevation before we bought our place and we ain’t got but a high school diploma and a year of community college between us.”

“It’s a conundrum,” I said.

“Well, I don’t know about no conun-dumb, but I do know it don’t make no sense. ’Course, neither does all that nonsense about refusing to bake somebody a cake and calling it ‘freedom.’ Back home, freedom don’t mean you get to tell other folks which side of their bread to butter.

“I’m sure looking forward to giving my representatives a piece of my mind come election time. They gotta do a better job protecting the environment; elsewise, my kids won’t have a river to fish or a forest to hunt when they grow up. They try to give me some lip and they’ll be sorry they messed with Sallie Parker.”

“You ain’t lyin’,” I said.


Inspired in part by Ron Littlepage’s Jimmy Ray Bob